In middle school we used to throw tampons at our male classmates (un-used tampons, of course). My girlfriends and I had all started menstruating, and we thought it was hilarious how terrified they were by a piece of cotton and plastic.
“Ewww, get that thing away from me! That’s disgusting!” they’d bellow, as the girls shrieked with laughter. I understood that it was a completely foreign object to most adolescent boys, but I wanted to help them understand: It really is just a piece of cotton, like a q-tip. It’s not disgusting and you don’t need to be afraid. So I decided to take a more educational approach, and simply hold the tampon in my hand so they could see it, touch it, and understand how it worked. At the age of thirteen, I thought it was important for everyone to have this knowledge. It’s no wonder I wound up being a spokeswoman for Sustainable Cycles.
Despite my new method, the boys still wrinkled their noses and backed away hastily. I was prepared to give up, when along came Alberto.
“Can I see?” he asked calmly.
“Yeah!” I blurted out in shock, “here you go!” And I thrust the device into his open palm.
He inspected it slowly in a clinical, curious manner. Frowning, he asks:
“So… how does it work?”
I raised my eyebrows. “You really wanna know?”
“Yeah,” he nodded.
I wasn’t quite prepared to explain the details of tampon use to a boy who, admittedly I had a huge crush on, so a gave him a brief, vague answer, something along the lines of, “Oh you just shove it up there and it catches the blood.” I’ve come a long way since then in my jargon.
Alberto smiled, returned the tampon, and walked back to his friends, who were wide-eyed and open-mouthed a few feet away. They began to harass him, and he cut in:
“It’s not gross guys, it’s just somethings girls need in life. It’s totally normal. Grow up.”
Many cis-gender men are uncomfortable talking about periods. Why shouldn’t they be? When the boys at my middle school reacted so drastically to the tampon in my hand, they were only doing what society has taught them to do. If young women themselves are afraid to talk to their mothers about menstruation, how can we expect cis-men to be any better? That is why Alberto’s confidence was so profound, especially at such a young age, and he said some very key words: “It’s totally normal.” Then why do we still feel so dirty and abnormal, as people who menstruate?
At a workshop we held in Cherokee, North Carolina, one woman had multiple stories about how embarrassed she was when she’d have a menstrual emergency and need her man to run to the store for her: “He’d come back screaming, ‘Don’t ever make me do that again! I feel disgusting!’” Rachel once asked one of our friends if she used a menstrual cup, and this friend glanced awkwardly at our male friend standing next to her and said: “I don’t really want to answer that right now.”
It’s clear that we have some trouble being accepting of our cycles, and it is deemed inappropriate to discuss the matter openly. I think it is time to end the stigma and shame, and those of you who don’t menstruate can play a huge role in that.
I am absolutely delighted when I meet period positive men. It only makes sense for people of all genders to understand how our bodies work, and for our partners to be informed and supportive. I once bled on the sheets of one of my romanic partners, and instead of making me feel ashamed or humiliated, he soothed my worries and said it was no big deal: “Don’t feel bad, Olive, it happens!”
In Asheville, we had one cis-male at our workshop, and he had great questions and comments. He was very interested in all the re-usable products we had, the science behind menstruation, and what he can do when his girlfriend is experiencing pain or discomfort.
Outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Sustainable Cycles team was having a parking lot picnic, when a young man emerged from Radio Shack to ask us about our tour. We explained our project to him, and he was stoked: “Wow, that- that’s amazing! I am really interested in women’s health, my girlfriend has taught me a lot and it’s become really clear that feminism is one of the most important movements right now. You girls are doing incredible work.”
It’s unacceptable to perpetuate the culture of silence and shame around our cycles. We bleed, we cover it up, ignore it, and god forbid we talk about it, let alone with men. No matter your gender identity or expression, all of us are effected by the moon cycle- it is the origin of life! If you are a non-menstruating individual and want to learn more, please join the conversation. All voices are appreciated. It feels so incredible when your partner says “It’s okay if you bleed on my sheets,” it is so amazing when a bearded man walks out of a Radio Shack and expresses his feminist views, and it is just astounding when a twelve-year-old boy ignores his immature peers and takes the tampon.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Written from Raleigh, North Carolina
Here’s a few photos from our adventure!